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Monday, August 15, 2016

Growing together

Between shy plants that dwindle away after a few seasons and thugs that try to take over the garden, there’s a sweet spot. There are a few plants that have formed colonies in my garden while still coexisting peacefully with their neighbors. I notice some of these close to the house, in my oldest planting area.

    I planted European ginger (Asarum europaeum) at least twenty-five years ago, drawn to its shade tolerance and shiny round leaves. 

European ginger is finally filling in and spreading

It took ten years to establish fully, and now it’s actually spreading and appearing in placed where I never planted it. It’s a treat to find a clump of European ginger growing among daylilies along the driveway or under the shade of the crabapple.

    I struggled to grow bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) at first. I was attracted to the white flowers this native sends up in early spring and then captivated by its gray-green leaves with their irregular indentations. 

Bloodroot is one of the first to flower in April

For a few years none of the rhizomes I planted survived. Now there’s an expanding patch of bloodroot in front of the crabapple, and it’s showing up a few feet away under the taller bleeding heart.

    Bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum) is a bit more assertive. I must have planted some by mistake mixed with other cranesbills whose flower colors appealed to me. The more glamourous cultivars faded away, and this native species slowly spread to fill an area of around 3 by 8 feet in front of the garage. The magenta flowers are fleeting and, to me, the least interesting thing about this plant. It greets me at the gate with the distinctive spicy scent of its deeply lobed leaves.

Bigroot geranium toughs it out in a dry, sunny spot

    Meadow rue (Thalictrum rochebrunianum), another native, has very slowly spread to form a group under the big red oak. A related species is named “aquiliegiifolium” for its leaves’ resemblance to columbine’s. Mine too has blue-green round columbine-like leaves. Unlike the columbine foliage in my yard, though, its leaves stay fresh through the season and don’t succumb to leafminers. The sprays of tiny lavender flowers last for several weeks in midsummer. 

Meadow rue flowers attract bees

These plants fill a difficult niche at the base of the tree where the soil is often dry. Gradually new plants have taken hold farther out from the trunk. Although they’re 5 feet tall, they’re so delicate that they don’t hide the peonies and shrubs behind them.

    Thanks to some combination of light, soil conditions, available moisture, and their plant surroundings, these plants have expanded their numbers and formed stable colonies. With these groupings, I’m crossing over from planting where I think plants should go to letting them choose their own places. They look great in the spots they’ve found for themselves.

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